· 4 min read · Features

Learning and development: Presentation skills - Stand and deliver

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HR professionals aren't known for their presentation skills, so when two took part in a speaking event organised by the College of Public Speaking, Peter Crush was part of their audience.

Regular readers of this magazine will be familiar with featured HRdirectors calling for their peers to be more vocal in getting theattention of their CEO.

But - so the saying goes - sometimes it is not what you say, but how yousay it. Presentation trainers have been claiming this for years. Thebest of the best are the small but growing number of professional publicspeakers who tour the globe displaying their skills. Top presenters aretypically members of an organisation called Toastmasters Internationalwhich has more than 215,000 members in 90 countries. It runs it ownchampionships, and, since 1987, speakers have also battled it out at theWorld Individual Public Speaking Championships (WIPSC). Past winnershave included David Gratzer, adviser to former mayor of New York RudyGiuliani.

Unfortunately HR professionals do not have a reputation for being greatpresenters. One man, however, is seeking to change this. Vince Stevensonis founder of the College of Public Speaking, a body that works with thelikes of BT, the Metropolitan Police, BSkyB and HM Treasury to improveits business people's communication skills. And last month the collegelaunched its own, slightly smaller version of the WIPSC - The CorporateChallenge.

"The event specifically targets executives likely to be in positionswhere clear and effective communication is needed - probably with theboard - but who are unlikely to have had any training in how to do itproperly," says Stevenson, who has more than 30 years' experience ofpublic speaking. "This event makes people think, probably for the firsttime, about how they present is likely to be received by theiraudience."

The event, held in the imposing surroundings of London's St Mary-le-BowChurch (of Bow Bells fame), was open to a maximum of 40 entrants, whocompeted over two days in January. The topic was 'Business and theCarbon Footprint'. Talks were limited to a maximum of six minutes, withpoints awarded for content, presentation skills, confidence, impact andclarity (see opposite page). And, of the 40 competing, two were HRprofessionals.

So how exactly did they fare, and what lessons did they learn that otherHRDs could find useful for preparing their cases to the FD or CEO? HumanResources magazine was there on the night to find out...

VERDICT

The standard of speakers was incredibly high - it even included twoformer Toastmaster winners. Most of the entrants were a mixture ofmanagement (from the likes of BT) and training professionals. It isprobably unfair to generalise based on the small numbers, but, ifpressed, I would say the two HR representatives were what I wouldconsider OK. I think the competition experience - which is akin to aboardroom - threw both of them slightly. What was interesting was thatthe manager group in no way automatically had the upper hand. It's afallacy that managers can speak. They are expected to be greatpresenters just because they are managers, but it is not necessarily thecase. What also struck me was the amount of preparation. Back in a worksituation most people don't do anywhere near enough preparation.Typically at work they spend a lot of time getting to know their stuff,but not enough on how to deliver it - and yet this is the make-or-breakpoint. Research proves that what you say is only 7% of the impact.Presenting is not about telling, but selling an idea.

THE HR COMPETITORS

PETER COOK - MBA, FCIPD, NLP Master

Age: 49

Occupation: HR manager, turned HR consultant for IBM, Pfizer, BT

Author of: Sex, Leadership and Rock'n'Roll -www.academy-of-rock.co.uk

Biggest speech you've made: Compering for 500 people at a Trent CountyCouncil Event

Why are you here? "Before I moved into consultancy, I found a lot of myHR co-workers were not that interested in self-improvement. I recognisedthe career decisions I'd taken up to this point were not going to leadme to where I wanted to go."

Your experience of other HR presentations: "HR seems to have its ownlanguage, yet it cannot have a conversation. It talks about HR-centricthis and that, none of which makes sense to CEOs or FDs. The trouble is,HR people moan that no one understands their competency strategies. Idon't think HR is emotionally literate enough, despite being goodlisteners. Unless they have strong opinions to present - which most donot - their voice gets lost in the boardroom. They have to come out andsay what they think, and where HR stands."

SPEECH HIGHLIGHTS

"I want to start with a question: 'Does global destruction have to be sodestructive?' I say no... "

"We're gripped by the idea of 'offsetting' but this is itself a druginvented by businesses to start another business... "

"Music can't save our collective soul (Madonna is personally responsiblefor 1,000 tonnes of carbon emissions a year - the average is 3.5tonnes); nor can politics..."

"My conclusion - we're hopelessly, but not yet seriously, introuble..."

WHAT VINCE STEVENSON SAID

"He showed great voice and communication skills, but used the platformto say what he wanted to say about himself rather than the topic inhand. It's a trap many speakers can fall into, as they stick to whatthey know about, but don't say what they need to. Alas, Peter didn'tmake it through to the final."

WHAT THE HR ENTRANTS SAID

"I liked having the discipline of having to say what you need to say ina certain time-frame. It's often easier to do a long speech than a shortone.'

CAROLINE ESTERTON, former training manager in the financial servicessector, with previous HR roles in retail

Age: 42

Occupation: HR director, Leaps and Bounds Training

Biggest speech you've made: Three-minute speech on education to a packedauditorium at the 1997 Labour Party Conference.

Why are you here? "To benchmark my own presenting skills. I typicallyshy away from big presentations. I'm not sure how people view me, so Iwanted to find out and practise some new techniques - all in a saferenvironment."

Your experience of other HR presentations: "I have to make two to threeformal presentations a month and generally think most speakers I'veheard are not good. The HR professionals I've met are not effective atpresenting their case. There's over-reliance on PowerPoint. I think HRis beholden to demonstrate the qualities it seeks in others."

SPEECH HIGHLIGHTS

"I want to talk about what we can do, not what we can't..."

"All businesses can make a difference to their environments, in the sameway that I've changed all 20 light bulbs in my house to energy-efficientones, and turn off the tap to prevent clean water gushing away when Ibrush my teeth... "

"My six-year daughter wants to plant sunflower seeds on the doorsteps ofevery house on our street..."

"Just imagine how green businesses could be if they all had theimagination of a little girl..."

WHAT VINCE STEVENSON SAID

"She had great delivery, spoke competently and really engaged with theaudience. What made the difference was that she got people to imaginewhat she was talking about by being expressive and building a picture.She has the ability to go all the way. She's into the final."

WHAT THE HR ENTRANTS SAID

"This really taught me the importance of preparation, of structuringyour argument and practising it in front of real people, not thecat."

- Want to know how to present better? Phillip Khan-Panni, silvermedallist at the World Championships of Public Speaking and UK championa record seven times, gives his exclusive tips at www.hrmagazine.co.uk.